AutismAble is committed to involving our beneficiaries in shaping our direction and making sure they are given a voice to help us meet their needs and ambitions. AutismAble first wrote our Theory Of Change in consultation with our beneficiaries in March of 2018. In 2022, with changes to our ways of working, we wanted to update our Theory Of Change and ensure the members who attend our service shape our direction and help us to understand the impact our work has on their lives.

In September 2022, AutismAble members, staff, trustees and volunteers, and their families, came together for a workshop to re-visit and re-design our Theory of Change.

We remain committed to demonstrating our impact and to co-creation, and to the best extent we can, we use New Philanthropy Capital’s ‘Four Pillars’ approach to strategy, evaluation and impact measurement. Of which, one aspect is to have a Theory Of Change.

If you are considering helping us fund and improve our services, referring members to us, or joining us as staff, then our Theory of Change will help sum up how we work and why our approach is important and unique.

At AutismAble we do a truly wide range of work with our members and service users:

  • Independence skills: cooking, finances, gardening, travel training, personal hygiene, health & wellbeing, relationships and communication
  • Creative skills: music making, film making, arts and media
  • Employment skills: CV and interview preparation and work experience at SeaChange Cafe and Works of Art
  • Sociable skills: friendship building, neurodivergent social clubs, AutismAble football team, accessing the community

AutismAble’s first priority is a member’s self-determination and independence. We provide our members with a range of opportunities to pursue their particular interests, which is a crucial part of engaging people with ASD.

Here’s how we used a fun collection of artistic and creative activities in order to draw out our member’s priorities, agree on the outcomes that we aim for together, establish the need for our services and demonstrate the causality that leads from our activities to our outcomes.

Why do our members come to AutismAble?

In as much detail as possible, our members described what they do at AutismAble, what they’ve achieved during their time here and how they now spend their time since joining us.

Looking at the drawing each member had made, we asked each to name:

  • The activities they were involved in
  • How they felt doing these activities and with these activities in their lives
  • What support they were given

Our members gave combinations of answers like:


 Makes me feel less depressed

 At the social centre

 I feel more sociable after coming here

 Playing football

 More confident

Pictured with friends

 Makes me stronger

The majority of positive language was associated with forging new social relationships, and words relating to confidence appeared again and again in relation to the activities young people were involved in.

2. What if our members didn’t come to AutismAble?

Our members were asked to draw themselves and their activities if AutismAble didn’t exist: What did they do? How did they feel? These would demonstrate the need our service fulfils but also continue to show our member’s priorities when they access our service.

Clear themes emerged:

  • That none of our members felt they would have any social life at all
  • That all had felt bored, sad, and bad about themselves at periods in their lives and could draw on this experience when thinking about their lives without AutismAble
  • Those responses emphasised isolation and the negative feelings associated with this

 Watching TV

 Not going out

 At home

 Feeling bored and sad

 Playing Xbox

 Feeling bored

‘Nobody to talk to’

 Trapped and confused

3. How does the experience of coming to AutismAble help our members for the future?

We asked our beneficiaries about their dreams, aspirations and where they would like to be in the future.

What would they like to do in 3 years?

They then reflected on and created a road-map that showed their aspirations. They were then asked which, if any of the positive feelings, activities and support that they wrote in the previous task were relevant to what they wanted to do and achieve in life.

Themes emerged:

All of our members aspired to have more independence in life.

All were motivated by the opportunity to make and develop friendships with their peers.

Words for feelings like confidence and calm were re-used again and again – words that were originally attached by post-it note to the feelings our members get, for instance by learning music – for goals such as ‘getting a job’ or being more independent.

Members would associate confidence, happiness and other emotions with their social and creative lives.

Before AutismAble: At AutismAble: Leading to:
Alone all day Playing music Getting a job
Playing Xbox all day Confidence Making more friends
Sad Gardening Living on my own
Depressed Relaxed

And translated these responses into the language of a Theory of Change like this:

Activities / Medium term outcomes:Needs:Outcomes:
MusicAlone all dayGetting a job
GardeningPlay xbox all dayGetting a house
Life skillsNo friendsLiving on my own
ConfidenceUnhappy Getting a girlfriend
HappyWorried about moneyMaking new friends
Feel like I get to be myself  

4. We invited family members of our beneficiaries to shape our Theory Of Change.

Several parents, carers and professionals working with our beneficiaries were asked to discuss our work and how it impacts upon their and their child or member’s life.

We asked: 

  1. What effect does our service have on your family life? 
  2. What aspirations do you have for your young person / what worries do you have for your young person?

We asked our parents and guardians to create a calendar that detailed their lives when our service exists and how their lives might look if our service closed. We also asked them to provide us with anonymous surveyed answers to questions about their view of their child’s future. 

Two things became clear to us as challenges that parents of our beneficiaries face, and that our service helps address.

  1. Parenting an autistic child can leave parents without a break and often means a parent has no time for anything else. Our service helps parents have time to themselves and to manage other pressures in their life around work and family.
  2. Worrying about a child’s future, especially with regard to independent living skills and socialising, is a significant source of stress for parents.

Services like ours don’t often capture the secondary beneficiaries in family and social networks that our social groups provide, and so in our 2022 Theory of Change we have included long term outcomes that capture this benefit of our services.

5. What do we do now?

We have learned how our activities help our member’s wellbeing, self efficacy and independence skills – and why this is important to them and the lives they want to live.

We want to be able to show funders, donors and potential members this fact in clear terms. So we will develop our impact measurement and KPI measurement to fit our Theory Of Change.

  • From January 2023, the impact of our wellbeing activities will be measured at every six week review using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (SWEMWBS). 
  • The number of positive friendships each of our members gain since joining will be reported on so that we can show, statistically, how joining us creates new friendships among our members. 
  • Our member’s levels of relative isolation should be measured using the Campaign To End Loneliness metric tool. 
  • We will make sure that our support is inclusive. We will work shoulder-to-shoulder with parents and carers to make sure their voices are heard and to address the worries they feel about their young person’s future.

6. Our Theory of Change in words:

AutismAble’s TOC was developed alongside our members and demonstrates how they thrive in environments that can improve both their wellbeing and guide them toward traditional academic and employment outcomes. 


  • Autistic people are highly likely to experience mental health conditions such as anxiety and overall low self esteem
  • Autistic people suffer extremely high rates of social isolation
  • Autistic young people have relatively low levels of personal independence
  • Families of autistic young people face stress from extra caring demands


  • Creative opportunities in music and visual arts
  • Training in independent living skills
  • Tailored employment support and work placements


  • Autistic young people achieve more when feeling greater sense of self esteem and personal confidence
  • Autistic people’s engagement and success in employability and training is improved in an environment that allows them to develop their interests
  • Social networks and opportunities for creative expression improve wellbeing and lead to greater personal resilience
  • Autistic people’s confidence and communication skills are best developed through creative opportunities

Intermediate outcomes:

  • Autistic people have a higher rate of educational achievement and attendance
  • Autistic people develop more resilience through more frequent social connections and more friendships
  • Autistic people’s rate of depression or anxiety is lowered
  • Autistic people’s confidence and self esteem is improved

Longer-term outcomes:

  • Fewer autistic people access mental health services
  • More autistic people live independent lives
  • Autistic people engage with each of the 5 wheel of wellbeing outcomes on a regular basis
  • Families of autistic young people have greater wellbeing from fewer regular caring demands
  • Autistic people have a higher rate of positive employment and educational outcomes than the national average
  • Autistic people report lower levels of loneliness and isolation